Thursday, November 8, 2012

Now and Then - This Week and Next Through a Post-Electoral Haze

Basking in the afterglow of Tuesday's election, we have time to pause and take stock of a few lessons taught (if not learned) from those events, and how that might be relevant to the ongoing pursuit of environmental and  economic sustainability in the Mississippi River Basin.  And we also pause to look ahead toward next week's return to Washington, DC of a Congressional contingent that has been recessed for what only seems to be an eternity.

This week . . .
In no particular order whatsoever, here are some random thoughts about the week's general election and what it may mean over the short, and perhaps long, term from the policy and legislative perspectives.
  • In the U.S. House, both parties sorted themselves out even more ideologically and geographically than before - to the left (Democrats) and the right (Republicans) and with Democrats aggregating even more-so in the northeast and coastal west and Republicans in the south and mid-section.
  • One major reason for this ever-widening ideological divide fracturing Congress is the arcane House redistricting process that is, itself. ideologically-driven (with the exception of California).  Redistricting is designed to form districts that contain more registered voters of the party doing the redistricting (the party in power at the state level).  As a result, House Members really rarely need worry about the general election and the other party's opponent.  Rather, contenders have to be concerned about winning their primary election against other members of their own party.  And to do that they have to cater to their party's core voters, who tend to come out in the primaries to vote and who tend to be more ideologically extreme.  So to do that catering, candidates have to stake out ever-more extreme (right or left) positions.  It is those more extremely left or right politicians, therefore, who make their way to Capitol Hill.
  • During the post-election gnashing of teeth that the GOP will undoubtedly collectively be doing these next several months and years, the debate (if not civil war) within the party will be between the "priests" and "mathematicians," as one political pundit put it.  The priests will argue for holding to a hard ideological line and allow for no compromise with Democrats over the next four years, while Republicans try once more to take the White House.  The mathematicians - or the realists - will count the numbers (of voters and electoral votes) and contend that Republicans need to form new alliances and partnerships, and compromise and collaborate in order to gain a constituency that can support a successful Presidential run.  Who "wins" that internal battle may dictate how much Congress and the Administration can accomplish collectively over the next three years (the fourth year being eaten up by the 2016 election).
  • As a result of the maintenance of the status quo in Washington, nobody has leverage and no one has a mandate.  Politically, every bill will have toxic elements to it and every policy initiative will somehow be "bad" to someone or to a lot of someones.  So, no one really knows what is going to happen during the lame duck session starting next week, and even less so during the upcoming legislative session.  But from where I sit, I wouldn't expect much to happen, at least in the near-term.  Or, as former U.S. House Member and Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt said at a Wednesday morning, post-election event, "Lame duck sessions are very aptly named. They're always lame."
And next . . .
The U.S. House and Senate return from their pre-election recess next Tuesday, November 13. Even then, however, work on legislation won't be starting in earnest, as the first week of a lame duck session is historically devoted almost exclusively to leadership elections and orientations. There will be at least twelve incoming Senators and 74 House newcomers who will need orienting to the ways of the Hill (including at least eight who are returning after a time away from Capitol Hill).  
Also in these early lame duck days, congressional leaders will start to fill soon-to-be-vacant top positions on several key environmentally-relevant committees, including the ranking member (Republican) on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chair, House Appropriations Committee ranking member (Democrat), House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair, and chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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